Editor's note: Democracy's Broken Promises is a five-part animation series that delves into the myths of American democracy. Through fictionalized narratives based on real events, this series explores the true extent of the power American voters have to transform their society. The first episode is about the promise and danger of the Internet for improving democracy.
Hi, I'm Fred Cort. For 40 years, I've been an educator in Taliaferro County, Georgia.
I've never been so frustrated. As a teacher, I can't ensure my students will succeed. They do not have stable access to online classes or resources. Around 40 percent of the students in my town have no internet.
President Joe Biden said he planned to give out more than $42 billion in broadband infrastructure grants. We were thrilled.
But we soon learned the government has to rely on a Federal Communications Commission broadband map to disburse the grant money. That map, frankly speaking, is wrong. The data is self-reported by Internet service providers, not the FCC.
As you may have guessed, these carriers have every interest in claiming better service than they actually provide. Our kids have molasses-slow iInternet, but the federal government, to this day, ignores this simple fact.
It's not just Taliaferro County.
Some 42 million Americans have no access to broadband connection. Good internet service is a luxury. Just over half of Americans making less than $30,000 a year have it – compared to 92 percent of households bringing in $75,000 or more.
This digital divide is causing problems.
The rich are getting richer. Everyone else is left behind in a society growing increasingly digital. Being rural and poor has been going on since 1733 in Georgia, yet, even in 2023, it is still "yak, yak, yak" without coming up with any solution.
Kids in rural parts of America like Taliaferro see no future for themselves. Seems like their only choices are enlisting in the army or working in the Amazon warehouse. Young people are disconnected, and are turning to drugs and despair in record numbers.
Internet access is just one piece of the problem. The other day, I learned a new word – infodemic.
We used to get reliable information from local newspapers. But two newspapers are closing every week on average. 2,500 newspapers have disappeared since 2005.
We've heard of lots of rumors about COVID-19, vaccines, and stolen elections. You can't tell if they are true.
Fake news is everywhere, making people frustrated, radical, and full of despair. The infodemic is much worse than COVID ever was.
Information freedom is vital for democracy. But my country is becoming divided, confused and poorly informed. That's a nice way of saying ignorant.
I grew up believing in freedom and democracy. But now I've found out these words are meaningless for the poor.
When people or even entire regions are no longer useful to those in power, they are forgotten, until someone wants your vote.
Fred Cort is a composite character based on real cases, representing challenges faced by many rural Americans.
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